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A First Time Guide to Understanding Turkey

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Labor Day has come and gone and we’re heading into the final months of 2012. Instead of focusing on fall foliage or the Christmas holidays, Peter wants you to maximize your 2012 travel. This September our contributors are covering some bucket list dream destinations. And tomorrow, Peter is hosting his a Twitter party (starting at 3:30pm ET/ 12:30pm PT) all about the better bucket list. Follow along with #betterbucketlist, to share your travel stories, get Peter’s advice and potentially win one of five travel Australia gift baskets.

Up first in our fall bucket list adventures is Turkey, where Virtuous Traveler Leslie Garrett takes apart all the preconceptions that comes with a first-time trip to Turkey and shows how to understand the culture that embraces travelers while often defying modernity.

I’m seated at a long banquet table in Istanbul enjoying yet another fabulous meal of the usual Turkish delights – eggplant, artichokes, black olives, tomatoes, lamb. Across the table, a fellow traveler begged off the lamb, citing a “lambover” from three days of binging on it, and asked for beef instead. My lamb is, again, delicious.

To my left, a young, gorgeous Turkish woman is telling us the bad fortune she’s experienced of late. Unsuitable suitors, apartment woes, the customary laments of 20-somethings the world over. All, she explains, because she hasn’t yet replaced her evil eye after it mysteriously fell from her wall and smashed on the ground.


Yes. Seriously. It’s another reminder that I’m in Turkey, a country that bewilders as much as it bewitches.

When the opportunity to go to Turkey came up…I asked myself, “What did I really know about Turkey?”

I had been reading in the news about Kofi Annan using it as headquarters as he tried – unsuccessfully – to broker a peace treaty within Syria. I then pulled out a map, noting that Turkey nestled up, at least geographically, against Iraq and Iran, with Syria to the south. Would I need a bulletproof vest? Speaking of clothes, Turkey is Muslim, I thought. Suddenly the clothes hanging in my closet seemed…well…slutty.

For decades, Turkey was the bridesmaid, never the bride, as tourists flocked to better marketed destinations for beaches and culture. As recently as 1998, fewer than 10,000,000 travelers annually made the trek, a number that has more than tripled in the decade and a half since.